Josef Albers on Experience

By Nitzan on February 1, 2019 — 1 min read

 

Science and life are not always the best friends. They are sometimes competitors, even as are theory and practice. In school we can see this in teaching the science of nature. We as children had to learn natural history, which tried to classify or dissect the phenomena of nature. But soon we underwent the experience that pressed herbariums are not nature at all and the herbalist is a dry man, like his specimens; or, that anatomy has to do mostly with dead bodies.

I think we have to shift from the data to the spirit, from the person to the situation, or from biography to biology in its real sense. As regards art results, from the content to the sense, from the “what” to the “how”; as regards art purposes, from the representation to the revelation.

To speak in a more practical way: We should try, for instance to see a chair apart from its functional characteristics, as a living creature and, if you wish, perhaps as a person, such as a worker, a servant, a peasant, or an aristocrat; and apart from its stylistic characteristics, as an apparatus willing to hold us, to carry, to surround or embrace us, to give us a rest, or to show or to represent us; that we recognize the different needs of a chair in our living-room, on the porch, at the table, or at the desk.

To speak in general terms: We should discover for instance that music, too, has to do with proportion and the values of line and volume; also that literature can be static and dynamic, and can have staccatos and crescendos, and poems can have color; that the play on the stage has not only dramatic climax but also an optical and an acoustical one; that there are musical qualities in all art—that every art work is built (i.e., composed), has order, consciously or unconsciously.

To say it essentially: Everything has form and every form has meaning. The ability to select this quality is culture. If you agree with me that religion worked out only on Sunday is no religion at all, then we must be united in this opinion, that seeing art only in museums, or using art only as amusement or recreation in lazy hours, shows no understanding of art at all.

—Progressive Education,12, October, 1935 – full text

 

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